BEMS Technology: A Digital Hub at the Center of Everything

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The first post in this series examined the trend toward smarter buildings. It also discussed how more intelligent structures make occupants happier and more productive. Smarter and more capable systems also save building owners and operators energy and money. All of this is done through a BEMS – a building energy management system – that automates adjustments to temperature, ventilation and lighting.

The Navigant Research Leaderboard Report “Building Energy Management Systems” defines BEMS as “an IT-based solution that extends the capabilities of sensing, control and automation hardware.” In this post, I’m looking at the capital T in that definition: technology. Specifically, what are the challenges of connecting everything together?

There is clearly a need for a digital hub in an intelligent and efficient building. The hub is where data collected from sensors and actuators goes. It makes it possible to analyze this information and finally it enables management of systems to achieve a goal. My experience has been that operational performance can be enhanced while improving energy efficiency as much as 40%.

What are the challenges to doing this and what should, therefore, a digital hub solution look like? One challenge is that buildings, unlike technology, are in use for decades. The International Energy Agency reports many buildings have a useful life of a century or more. It also says half of today’s buildings will still be in use in 2050. So, any hub technology must be able to work with building systems that are decades old. It also should be future proofed so that the hub can be used many years from now.

Speaking of the future, the Internet of Things (IoT) will hit 20.8 billion devices by 2020, Gartner says. Enterprises will spend more on this than consumers. For a building’s digital hub, that means it should be an IoT enabler. That can be done if it implements a full IP backbone, as IP-based communication will be universally possible with virtually every device.

What’s more, a robust IP capability helps a hub meet other needs: open protocols and web services. The former, for example, makes it easier to collect data from any standards compliant room occupancy sensor and use that information to intelligently manage open protocol-based HVAC and lighting systems. As for web services, they give you the option to access systems and information from anywhere and at any time. Having the capability creates such possibilities as interfaces for tenants or operators that can be securely accessed through a mobile device.

Getting data is only part of the need a hub should meet. Powerful building analytics must also be part of the mix. By analyzing data, building operators and owners can do preventive and predictive maintenance, with one result being less unscheduled downtime.

There is a final set of digital hub requirements. It should, of course, allow on premise operation. That has been the traditional way to do building energy system management. However, the hub should also enable you to do the same through the cloud. If you don’t need to do that now, there’s a chance you will need or want to do so in the future.

For an example of such a digital hub, look at our SmartStruxure for large and critical buildings as well as our SmartStruxure Lite for small and medium buildings. Both are easy to install and configure while meeting the specifications outlined above.

In my next post, I’ll look at IoT and the impact of this technology on building management. After that I’ll examine more BEMS technologies, software and innovations.

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